On Saturday 12th August, St Fagan’s embarked on their first foray into launching an annual Glasto-esque fest of family friendly fun in the heart of the Welsh countryside. An impressive musical smorgasbord headlined the Orchard-organised inaugural event, from Tom Odell to Martha and the Vandellas, Jack Savoretti to the Shires. In addition, there was also a variety of non-musical entertainment to be had throughout the day, from arts and crafts to artisan-quality food and a funfair/ circus for good measure.
Welsh acoustic duo Into the Ark, local boys from Blackwood turned The Voice UK 2017 finalists, started the show with soulful, spirited charm. They performed as if they were headliners – and to us, they were.
Martha and the Vandellas followed with an energetic set, infusing the festivities with a party atmosphere and setting off the sing-a-long spirit with classic hits like ‘Jimmy Mack’ and the timelessly terrific ‘Dancing in the Street’.
Third to take to the stage were Brit country duo the Shires, who held the distinction of being the first act whose very presence raised the crowd to their feet. And what a joyful noise they made on that sunny Saturday afternoon, belting out fan-favourite hits like ‘State Lines’ and ‘All Over Again’ as well as making time for more melancholic melodies such as ‘Daddy’s Little Girl’. They promised to be back soon, and here’s hoping it won’t be their last time in Cardiff – judging by the cheers that permeated their performance, there are many (including myself!) who are looking forward to welcoming them back to Wales in the not too distant future.
Tom Odell provided a suitably bombastic closing set, tearing through tunes with a spellbinding falsetto Matthew Bellamy would have been proud of. My personal favourites of the night were the achingly haunting ‘Can’t Pretend’ and his career-launching debut ‘Another Love’, both of which – along with his remaining repertoire – were elevated by a dazzling light show that punctuated every syllable of Odell’s crooning choruses.
Hover, it was the penultimate performance of the festival, provided by the incomparable Jack Savoretti, that stole the show with a haunting, husky voice that would make the likes of Paolo Nutini and Tom Waits blush. There is simply no-one else in the world who sounds like Jack Savoretti, and he suffuses his songs with the raw, rugged sound that has become his trademark. Hearing him live was a special treat, though I have to compliment almost everyone on the day who performed live for sounding just as good as, and often better than, the record. There were too many favourite Savoretti songs to mention, from the rebel-rousing ‘We Are Bound’ to the sorrowfully sincere ‘When We Were Lovers’, and the True Blood-tinged ‘Knock Knock’. It was a real treat to have an artist of Jack Savoretti’s calibre in this event, as it was with so many of the marvellous musicians that graced St Fagan’s that day.
The sheer variety of food on offer – from gourmet burgers to posh pizzas – was a feast for the eyes and nose, but sadly not for the stomach. Reportedly 8,000 festival-goers walked the fields of St Fagan’s that day, but far fewer managed to purchase even a single crumb due to the bloated queues that stretched out for hours on end.
‘Queue-Gate’ was such a widespread issue that the ensuing tweet-storm urged the organisers to issue an apology, which, though appreciated, still failed to understand the backlog (many spent up to 2 hours queuing at a single stall), or the duration (it was an issue throughout the entire day, not just the evening). Worse still, the organisers banned any food being brought onto the premises, meaning that the supposedly family friendly event left many families with the choice of queuing for hours or going hungry.
I only braved a queue at around 9pm, by which time all that seemed to be left in the entire venue was a single Danish pastry (at that point, it was any port in a storm). Even if picnics had been allowed in, it would have been impossible to resist the delicious scent that wafted across the fields throughout the event. The ratio of people to food vendors was severely misjudged; in future, either lower the maximum number of tickets sold, or increase the amount of food stalls on offer.
In addition, the site itself was tricky to navigate. I didn’t even know there was a second stage for supporting acts, and spent the first three hours eagerly awaiting the arrival of Kizzy Crawford, an enchanting bilingual singer, on the main (at that time I thought the only) stage. It was only after my increasing hunger necessitated exploring the venue that I stumbled across a beautiful bandstand hung with twinkling fairy lights. The dulcet tones of Gareth Bonello (aka the Gentle Good) drifted across the evening air, after which he mentioned fellow Welsh-speaking singer Kizzy Crawford’s earlier set, and my heart dropped. If only there had been a programme, or schedule of some kind, listing the various locations and who was doing what when, it would have greatly enhanced the accessibility and exploration potential of the festival experience.
I had a wonderful time at my very first festival experience. However, there are things at a fundamental level that must be addressed for a follow-up fest to be a success, from better management and organisation to a programme of events and acts. However, it remains a very special event to have been a part of, and it was a real privilege to see so many incredible musicians pour their hearts, and their songs, in that picturesque place. I would love to see the Burning Lantern festival return next year, especially if its maiden voyage was able to attract such a breadth of talent from all spheres of the musical world – but it has to take these concerns on board for it to rebuild trust and maintain interest in its future.